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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

More Straight Talk (and Real Numbers) about POD Sales

I had only published books with traditional publishers until two years ago, when I opted for POD, or print-on-demand, to publish Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books. I had high expectations for the book--there were no other good books out there on successful ghostwriting--and was excited about trying out this new publishing model. 

At the time, I didn't realize that the “average” number of sales for a POD author is 100 copies. I expected to sell way more than that! So, how am I doing? 

I've posted before about how many copies I sold during the first year after it was published. But to recap, during the first year, I sold:

  • 159 print copies through CreateSpace (including expanded distribution, where readers ordered the book through their local brick-and-mortar bookstores);
  • 50 e-books;
  • 50 copies through a special sale; and
  • 36 copies as “hand-sales,” or copies I sell at speaking gigs, writers' conferences, or directly to readers who want a signed copy, etc.
That's a total of 295 copies, which means I nearly tripled the “average” number of POD sales in my first year after it came out. I grossed $1703, but I spend about $900 total to publish the book. (That included what I paid CreateSpace, what I paid my proofreader, and sending copies of the book to my 20-something sources.) So my net profit on the book was about $800.  

And as I write this, 2 years after publishing the book, I've sold 451 copies, which breaks down like this:

  • 261 print copies through CreateSpace ($1,213); 
  • 101 e-books ($706); 
  • 50 copies through that special sale ($350); and
  • 39 copies as “hand-sales" ($429).

Do the math. My gross is $2,698, which means after two years in print, my net profit on this POD book is about $1,798. Yikes. That's not much, is it? However, the book has led to other work, including a feature on ghostwriting for Writer's Digest, hosting Webinars, and several speaking gigs. The book has also continued to build my platform and attract new ghostwriting clients, which is one of the reasons I published it

Would I go POD again? Probably not, but that's a topic for another post. Next post, I'll share my latest royalty statement from a traditional publisher. Stay tuned! 

Readers, I always debate sharing "not-so-great" news, like the real (and relatively low) numbers in this post. But I think it's important that authors know what to expect when going POD. Have you found this post helpful? Any other questions about POD you'd like me to answer? Comment below and let me know. :) And if you're seriously considering POD, check out my latest e-book, Dollars and Deadlines' 7 Biggest Mistakes POD Authors Make--and How to Avoid Them (SmashWords edition) 


  1. Thanks for sharing, Kelly. I love to know the true scoop instead of getting sucked into all the money-making dreams.

    Would love to know how this pays out on an hourly rate. I know it would only be "so far" as the more you sell over the years, that rate would go up, but...

  2. Thanks so much for sharing your numbers, Kelly. It takes a lot of courage to put them out there, but it's a huge help to see. There's so much hype floating around that I think sometimes authors need a reality check.

  3. Love this post! After signing my third traditional publishing contract, I've been contemplating self publishing a book -- with the expectation that I could make a lot more money than a traditional royalty. However, you've making me think twice!

  4. Many thanks for being your up-front self and sharing actual numbers. Bravo!

  5. Hi Kelly - Last saw your name on the FLX boards. Glad to hear all has been going well. I'm anticipating self-pubbing a novel next April and am intrigued by your "Dollars & Deadlines" book. Does it deal with fiction? One thing I have in my favor is I'm not looking to pay for my time. The book is written, and was written for fun, so any $$ is gravy. Thanks, and best to you.

  6. Thanks, Carol, Jenn, Deborah, and Heather. Carol, my hourly rate would be pretty low although at this point every sale is just "gravy" which is nice. Cari, the Dollars POD book focuses more on nonfiction, but the principles are the same--realizing that you have to identify your audience, give readers a reason to BUY your book, recognizing that POD companies make their money off of authors, not readers. Let me know if you want more info. :) Do look into CreateSpace, where you can go POD for free as long as you do your own interior and cover design. Just keep in mind that the company still makes a profit every time it prints a book for you! :)

  7. Hi Kelly-
    Just wanted to say that I really appreciate you sharing this information. People are so hesitant to talk about this, but it's so important for us to have a clear idea of expectations and what we make.

  8. Thanks, Kimberly! That's exactly the idea. :)